Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of Silence by Anthony Quinn (Head of Zeus, 2015)

Spooked at a police checkpoint, Father Aloysius Walsh speeds away to his death. For the past few years he had been collecting evidence of collusion between serving police officers and loyalist paramilitaries, plotting a murder triangle in Armagh in the late 1970s. Inspector Celcius Daly arrives at the scene, along with Special Branch, and starts to investigate despite their warnings to steer clear. At a hotel a few miles away a former British agent who served at the heart of the IRA waits for Father Walsh, but is instead visited by a journalist. The agent, journalist and Daly all want the murders and the involvement of the police exposed, but for different reasons. For Daly the reason is personal – his mother’s name is written on Walsh’s murder map. His colleagues want Daly to drop his investigation and the agent silenced. Daly, however, needs to know the truth of his mother’s death even if that means revealing dirty police secrets of the past.

Silence is the third book in the Inspector Celcius Daly series set in the borderlands of Northern Ireland. Daly is an introverted and stubborn loner cop who lives in a run-down cottage near to Lough Neagh. In this outing he’s investigating the death of a Catholic priest who had been investigating the death of Daly’s mother, along with others, in 1979. Daly had been told his mother was caught in the crossfire of a skirmish between the police force and Republican terrorists. Father Walsh’s research shows she was killed in cold blood by Loyalist paramilitaries colluding with serving police officers. The police force wants to keep the collusion under wraps to protect its reputation and the officers involved. Daly is only interested in the truth. With his usual single-mindedness he starts to gather evidence to supplement that collated by Father Walsh. Unlike much crime fiction that is driven primarily by the plot and the interactions between a fairly large cast of characters, Silence is an in-depth character study of a man struggling with himself and his past, and the landscape and history of the Irish borderlands. Quinn dwells on Daly’s inner turmoil, the atmosphere and sense of place, and the secrets of a dirty war. The result is a highly reflexive, literary crime tale that juxtaposes the present fragile peace with the need for truth and reconciliation.  The prose is often delicious, there’s some nice intertextuality with Stuart Neville’s work, and a clever knowing nod to the storytelling with a passage in which a journalist details how she’s going to tell the story of the 1979 murders through a fiction piece starring Daly (Quinn is a journalist).  Where the story suffers a little bit is the ending which seemed a little truncated and the denouement lacked conviction and resolution. In addition, there was one element that did not ring true for me and bumped me out of the story. Nonetheless, an interesting piece of introspective crime fiction.

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